Product review: NAS 2000 empowers Web users

The company intranet is such a critical means of communicating company charters, goals, culture and other types of information that dedicating Webmasters or developers to the task of getting data online can be a huge waste of talent and time. Fortunately, products such as NetObjects' Authoring Server (NAS) 2000 empower users who may have varying levels of technical skill to contribute directly to an intranet, eliminating the need to make one person or a few people responsible for channelling and managing content.

I found NAS 2000 much easier for intranet administrators to use than Microsoft Office 2000 for controlling who publishes content and placing it on the intranet site. NAS 2000 uses an add-on server component to accept documents from applications such as Microsoft Office, Lotus Smart Suite, and Corel WordPerfect.

Many changes from the previous version of the product, Authoring Server, address core functionality and performance; thus, this version visually is not much different than the previous version. This version still comprises two components: the server, called Authoring Server, and the client, called TeamFusion.

The Authoring Server is a Windows NT Server product that stores the actual intranet site. One of the most major changes in NAS 2000 is that it now offers symmetric multiprocessing support, resulting in better overall performance. The server is also the container for a list of users with specific contribution rights. In addition, the capability to import users from an NT domain, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, or Novell Directory Services is a new and a very welcome feature. User authentication can now be accomplished using any of these directories.

Essentially, users have sets of specific rights that correspond to the roles they play within the development of an intranet site. Because NAS 2000 supports multiple sites, the application is designed for users involved with different sites to have a different role for each one. For example, a user may have rights to modify page layout as well as to add graphics and text on one site but only the right to add text on another site. In addition, NAS 2000 allows specific users to be assigned site administrators, thus relieving the server administrator of additional administrative hassles.

TeamFusion, the client portion of the product, remains pretty much the same as the previous version. It's identical to Fusion 4.0, NetObject's stand-alone Web-design product. The biggest difference between Fusion and TeamFusion is that users must check out a section of the site -- whether it's a page or part of a page -- to make changes to it. Of course, the user must have appropriate rights or roles in order to check out site sections.

NAS 2000 offers a few very important items that combine to make site design less of a chore. The Reviewer option allowed me to assign a specific user to review anything that was modified before it could be published; thus a reviewer who is unhappy with a change can assign a request for a correction. This feature alone brings a more structured approach to site design and ensures that a finished product will be high-quality. In a human resources department, for example, changes made to company policy text can automatically be routed to the HR director for a review before the changes ever make it to the intranet.

Some other features that make NAS 2000 even more appealing are its configurable publishing features. This version allows greater flexibility in terms of server locations and times. For example, I configured both of my test sites to automatically publish to mirrored servers at specific times. As a result, I no longer have to duplicate my publishing efforts to multiple servers, and I never have to worry about remembering to publish changes. Another fantastic feature that is long overdue is site revisioning. NAS 2000 now stores every single site change to a log file, which means it's only a matter of a few simple steps to revert to an older version at any time, for any reason.

Another welcome feature, asset sharing, allowed me to share items such as company logos or links across all related sites on one authoring server. For example, if a graphics artist modifies a company banner, then all sites using that banner will update automatically. This also applies to hypertext links. I also liked the real-time messaging feature that allowed me to shoot a quick message to anyone working on the site.

However, although NAS 2000 is a well-rounded product, I would recommend two major changes. First, I would like to see the NAS 2000 Administrator module become browser-compatible; second, it's time for TeamFusion and NetObjects' Web development tool, Fusion, to combine or become compatible executable programs. Until that happens, those who already have Fusion cannot use it to contribute to NAS 2000 and will have to use a separate program. According to NetObjects, the unification of the Fusion and TeamFusion executable files is in the works.

NAS 2000 is a solid solution for empowering individuals and groups to create and maintain corporate intranets, as well as being a good tool for creating internet sites.

(Andre Kvitka (carver65@verio.com) is a consultant at San Francisco-based Archway Consulting and has reviewed products for more than 10 years.)The bottom line: very goodNetObjects Authoring Server 2000Summary: NetObjects Authoring Server (NAS) 2000 is a visual intranet development environment that lets technical and nontechnical users contribute to an intranet, thus spreading the task of maintaining intranets across an entire organisation.

Business Case: NAS 2000 significantly reduces the time spent maintaining and processing incoming content for an intranet by empowering users to add their content directly to the intranet.

Pros

+ Easy to install and maintain, almost nonexistent learning curveCons- Authoring Server's TeamFusion client is a different executable than Fusion 4.0 executable- Third-party components developed for Fusion 4.0 are not compatible with TeamFusionCost: Two-client server system: $US1985; 20-client system: $19,850; 50-client system: $49,625; other options, such as Connectors and NAS for Websphere priced separatelyPlatforms: Server runs on Windows NT Server 4.0; TeamFusion Client runs on Windows 95, Windows NT Workstation, and NT Server

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